Martin Buber in his short pamphlet, The Way of Man, related the story of the Hasidic Rabbi Zalman who died in 1813. The story resonates with John Baptist’s calls for preparedness and repentance: Repentance described here is to “Turn around” or to “Change your mind”.
Rabbi Shmeur Zalman was the Rav (rabbi) of Northern White Russia. The rabbi was arrested and jailed by his enemies for his Hasidic teachings. He was deep in prayer in his cell, a peaceful countenance radiated from him, when the Chief of police came to his cell door and looked in. The chief was impressed by the Rabbi’s calm and holy demeanor.
The chief asked, whether it was to test him or simply out of curiosity, “How are we to understand the God, the all –knowing, said to Adam, ‘Where art thou?’”
“Do you believe,” answered the Rabbi, “that the scriptures are eternal and that every era, every generation and every (hu)man, is included in them?”
“I believe this” said the other.
“Well then,” said the Zaddik, “in every era, God calls to every man: ‘Where are you in your world?’ So many years allotted to you have passed and how far have you gotten in your world? God says something like this: ‘You have lived forty six years, how far along are you?’”
The chief heard his age mentioned, he pulled himself together, laid his hand on the rav’s shoulder and cried, “Bravo!” But his heart trembled.
John rails in the Wilderness of our present lives: Metanoia. Our English translations of the Greek translated Metanoia as Repent. It came to mean to us to feel bad about how bad we are and God’s gonna get us. Metanoia means to turn around and as Richard Rohr defines it: to change your mind.
The old Rabbi and John were on the same track. Adam’s response and often our own to God who asks us where we are is that: “I was hiding”. And what we are hiding from is the realization that as an old saw said, “God loves two things: change and a good joke.” Certainly change. Change from which we hide, especially the change of our mind. As the Rabbi asked the Chief of police, “Where are you in your world?” Somehow our resistance to change leads us nowhere. We get stuck. Our stubborn and unyielding “ego” hates change because it is involved in a protection racket. It is so involved with us versus them, right and wrong, that it resists union with our neighbor, much less tries to understand our enemy. And yet it is only with a fluidity in the midst of change that we can grow into communion, into a heart of love and into God.
There are a thousand Ferguson’s in our minds where we are the white police officer and the chief of police, afraid and with a gun. And yet we are also the parents of the Michael Brown’s and Trayvon Martin’s. These young men are indeed our own sons. If we can’t put down our guns when we are talking to our own beloved children, how are we ever able to move beyond our own security to a love of the other? Certainly the white policeman who takes the life of another is never going to be happy with shooting an unarmed human being whatever the situation. He will agonize over his actions for much of his life or he will shut down into a secure and invulnerable ego.
We understand the white policeman because he is a part of us. And don’t we want to find a way of letting the ones with the guns refuse to use them; to refuse to think of the Black youth as the enemy and to embrace him as our own son, for he is. We have formed him through four hundred years into his anger and his rejection of us. I have seen it in the eyes of black children as they rode the yellow busses into South Boston to the jeers and racial epithets of white mothers, lips pulled back over their teeth. I watched as fear turned from day to day into anger, either that or the destruction to their spirit. Anger was a survival tool.
For all of us we are asked, “Where are you in your life?” And where do you want to go? Are you willing to move toward the kind of heart rending communion that is needed for the health of the mind and body and the spirit, or are you going to close down, harden yourself, and become stuck? Are you willing to embrace change, or will you, Adam, continue to hide from the God who loves you as a parent loves ones own child?
Blessings on all beings:
- I recommend Richard Rohr’s chapter “Change you mind” in the Naked Now as you prepare for Sunday. Hope you can find a copy.